Minimize Your Risk Consumers can take a number of actions to reduce their risk of fraud or other problems.
Some of the most common frauds against consumers include:
- identity theft;
- deceptive contests, prizes and sweepstakes;
- deceptive charitable solicitations;
- "recovery" services;
- travel scams; and
- phony business opportunities.
Take the following precautions when you buy or contribute by phone or mail:
- Don't ever divulge your credit card number (even the expiration date) or your checking account number for any reason other than to make a purchase -- for example, for "verification" or "identification" purposes.
- Know who you're dealing with. If you have doubts about a company, check with your state or local consumer protection office or the Better Business Bureau where the company is located before you do business with them, but realize that an absence of complaints does not mean the company is legitimate .
- Keep a record of the companies you deal with. Include their names, addresses, telephone numbers and any payments made, including credit card information given.
- Ask whether there are additional fees for shipping and handling, state sales tax, insurance or restocking, and if so, the amounts.
- Ask about refund and exchange policies.
- Know the total cost of the merchandise and any material restrictions on obtaining or using it.
- Ask for and wait until you get written material about an offer or charity you're not familiar with or have doubts about before sending money or making a donation.
- Refuse prize offers where you have to pay or make a purchase in order to be eligible for a prize. That's illegal.
- Don't be pressured or act on impulse. Take the time to understand an offer and talk it over with someone you trust.
- Use common sense. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Credit Card Purchases
You are protected by the FTC's Fair Credit Billing Act from billing errors when you use your credit card to pay for purchases. If you find an error on your credit or charge card statement, you may dispute the charge and withhold payment on the disputed amount while the charge is in dispute. The error might be a charge for the wrong amount, for something you did not accept, or for an item that was not delivered as agreed. Of course, you still must pay any part of the bill that is not in dispute, including finance charges on the undisputed amount.
If you decide to dispute a charge:
- Write to the creditor at the address indicated on the monthly billing statement for "billing inquiries." Include your name, address, credit card number, and a description of the billing error.
- Send your letter soon. It must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after getting your letter. (Debit cards do not have the same protections as credit cards; money is debited from your bank account in the same way checks are.)
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